"It's about curating something sonically that is sexy": Manuka Honey and La Favi in conversation - Features - Mixmag

"It's about curating something sonically that is sexy": Manuka Honey and La Favi in conversation

Following the release of their collaborative track '777', Megan Townsend caught up with Manuka Honey and La Favi to reflect on channelling anger into music, the "Latin club boom" and how supporting other women can be a source of strength

  • Megan Townsend
  • 11 July 2023

Donned in matching black outfits, glittery make-up and dual unfazed-yet-assertive expressions - it's difficult to diminish the manner with which Manuka Honey and La Favi light up this Dalston coffee shop on a dreary April afternoon. Planting themselves down at the back, they share their excitement for their upcoming HÖR set — which is set to begin in a few hours time. The two give off the energy of lifelong friends, exchanging knowing looks and sweet considerations to each other as they relay their coffee order — so it's a bit of a surprise when I ask if La Favi's debut at Manuka's SUZIO party at Colour Factory was the first time they had played together, and they respond in unison: "That was the first day we ever met!"

Having found each other via Instagram, the pair had developed a purely online mutual respect up until Manuka Honey sent over a preview of her track '777' to La Favi, who would eventually provide her vocals to the Club Romantico-released track. Both reeling from brutal breakups, and sharing an unyielding respect for Latin music, badass women and raw artistic expression — they connected, and became fast friends.

After spending the biggest part of a decade working to bring Latinx-infused sounds into London's nightclubs, Manuka Honey has carved out a community on the dancefloor of her femme-led party, SUZIO. Flying the flag for all things sexy, hard and unhinged, Manuka is committed to bringing the sometimes-sidelined genres of the Latin underground to the forefront; refusing to rest on the familiar sounds of reggaeton and guaracha, she weaves her sets around cumbia, shatta, even Mexican hardstyle heard on her travels. An astrologer by-day, her love of all things divine has directly influenced her work as a producer, allowing an instinctive and emotional force to bubble to the surface of her work — all-the-while accompanied by technical prowess and experimental inclination. Her debut EP 'Industrial Princess', released via NAAFI in 2021, combined sharp-edged, rowdy club music with spiritual incantations; while her most recent two-tracker '777/Machete', despite being a "revenge-arc EP", sounds like it's from beyond the human realm, packed to the brim with incorporeal chimes and gongs.

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So it makes perfect sense for this London club powerhouse to team up with one of underground reggaeton's most influential voices — Latin GRAMMY award-winning singer-songwriter La Favi. Born and raised in California, La Favi's sound is heavily influenced by her upbringing — lending elements from a plethora of genres from the Spanish speaking world, both new-age club music and the more traditional sounds of flamenco and colpa. As a vocalist, she's known for her emotionally-tinged falsetto, usually standing in juxtaposition to raucous raggaeton percussion.

We caught up with Manuka Honey and La Favi following the release of their track '777' and Manuka's two-track EP '777/Machete' on Club Romantico, to talk about the impact of London on underground music, the need to big up underrepresented sounds, and the beauty of women uplifting each other.

You've recently teamed up to create '777', how did the collaboration come about?

Manuka Honey: I've been a fan of La Favi since I've had ears, so... [laughs]. No, but when it comes to underground reggaeton, it's not a huge scene internationally. Everyone has a unique way of doing what they do, and Natalia's voice has such a strong character and a power to it. I wanted to work with her for years. We'd been mutuals for a while, and with the record ('Machete/777' EP) coming out, I thought this was the moment to reach out.

La Favi: I was very taken with Manuka. We hadn't met in person, but as soon as I saw her online I started checking out her mixes, her Boiler Room. I really liked that she was this "dark feminine," I could relate to the energy — I could feel it. There are so many not good things about the internet, but I have met some of my closest friends - my nearest and dearest - through random things online and it's all started with a DM.

Manuka Honey: ...and the rest is history.

La Favi: Yeah, I sent [Manuka] some vocals and it was all done self-recorded, I haven't had much opportunity to work with many female producers - since I started it was always working more with men - so I was immediately interested to work with Manuka. When I heard what she did with vocals, I felt like she understood me.

Manuka Honey: You have such a unique way of doing what you do, and as a producer, I just try to make it my job to amplify instead of work against it - to accomplish something. It's about bringing both of our angles to the table, like you said, it's rare enough to have two women working together as production and vocals, but then also then to have such an energetic understanding of each other — which, you know, is all down to our past traumas.

La Favi: Yeah, we definitely relate to each other in a lot of ways.

Manuka Honey: We made it work for us, it wasn't a trauma bond it was mutual respect and creative prowess - but it's now turned into a real friendship and we're rolling around London now. She fucking sold out Colour Factory.

La Favi: It was so fun.

Read this next: Manuka Honey shares new EP 'Machete / 777'

I know! How was the SUZIO party? Was that the first time you have both played at the same party?

La Favi: That was the first day we ever met!


La Favi: Yeah, I saw that Marissa had been touring as this one woman machine, and I was super inspired and very excited when she invited me to come and do this party with so many artists that I respect. Dinamarca for example, he's a friend and collaborator too. There were so many amazing people there, it was a dream.

Manuka Honey: It was a dream for me too, the work that you've done with Dinamarca is so canonical, it's defined the genre — it's no surprise that you have both gotten the accolades and international acclaim off the back of those projects. It was crazy to me that you guys were playing together, with SUZIO I'm trying to bring together community, Latino community and the Spanish speaking world together, in London — where there is that power of visibility and access that a lot of other places just don't get. I want to create this place where people can meet and join together, so when you told me you'd never played London before I was like: "This is crazy." It was a really magical moment, it was definitely the best SUZIO we've ever had.

Can you give us the lowdown on the party? How did you both find it?

La Favi: We didn't go to sleep till like...

Together: 9:AM! [laughs].

La Favi: London goes hard for sure, real hard. The party was so lit. It brought me back to my youth, I started going out when I was 14-15 to raves and warehouse parties, we were all diaspora kids and influences mixing together and I really felt that at SUZIO. Very pure. Not to be corny, the music had the power beyond the superficial of "bringing people together."

Manuka Honey: I mean you killed it, people kept coming up to me like: "wait, she's got no autotune on there?" There was no ad-lib, she was full-on singing. She was acting so unhinged it was beautiful.

La Favi: Oh god.

Manuka Honey: You know her ankle is broken right now?

Oh my god, really?

La Favi: Yeah, I got an injury two months ago so it was a bit touch and go.

Manuka Honey: We didn't even know she could come until like a week before.

La Favi: My surgeon did give me clearance right before the flight, so I was really grateful.

Manuka Honey: We had a stool, she had some fans and then the stool was nowhere to be seen — she was leaning over, people were swaying. You were throwing ass. I remember when we were rehearsing you said: "Just go track to track, don't give me any space in-between." I said, OK, but I knew they were going to want to scream and yell and hear you — then there was this moment where [La Favi] just starts singing acapella, in this warehouse, raw, no backing, no autotune, nothing. I just had this moment where I was like [makes bewildered expression].

La Favi: We'll have to do it again. My music is really underground, but here people knew my songs — so I was taking requests. We were joking that it is a bit unhinged to do live singing in a nightclub, because it's not super-produced. But I think people like it when it's a little bit raw.

Manuka Honey: I had just flown in that night from The Netherlands, I'd been up all night the night before playing at Rewire Festival. Plus I was in China four days before that, for three weeks. The day after Colour Factory too, I went to MOT to play James Massiah's party. So you know, we're working. I was a bit exhausted, not really able to be 100% present at SUZIO. But then the next day I started tearing up, I was like "that was so beautiful."

Obviously La Favi your vocal chops are pretty renowned, being a Latin GRAMMY winner and all. Manuka, you actually used your vocals on the other track on the EP 'Machete' — did you get any advice from La Favi beforehand?

Manuka Honey: Nah, I was girl boss gatekeeping that track [laughs]. No I showed it to you. Look if I could sing, everyone would know —but I'm a Pisces: writing, speaking, poetry all comes very natural to me. My work as an astrologer is very poetic, so I wanted to bring my own vocals into it - but with bratty hot girl vibes. Actually I did the same thing on my NAAFI EP 'Industrial Princess', all of those tracks have my vocals, but it's more supporting the club track — the breathing, the tiny ad-libs. Here I wanted it to be more present, I talked to Florentino and he said "you should say something." It's a revenge arc EP, so I said something.

La Favi: I love it. There's something that connects singing, speaking, incantations — there's something powerful in her writing, her words. It makes me feel something.

Manuka Honey: It's the same for you 100%, because in reggaeton there are so many different sides. The side I feel Natalia does amazingly, is that she's literally saying the deepest shit you've ever heard, she's making you cry — but you still wanna throw ass. I was really surprised when you were a water sign, then I realised you're a Sagittarius, there's wisdom.

La Favi: I'm learning about Astrology from Manuka.

Best teacher ever.

Manuka Honey: I teach people by just talking at them [laughs].

The EP is about the rage against the vilification and the sexualisation of Latina women...

Manuka Honey: But also, my ex. It's funny we didn't communicate about it that much.

La Favi: Yeah, I was also going through it. I think it was a connection.

...you were both on the same wavelength.

La Favi: Yeah, I was feeling it. I think I kind of felt it before, that something was going on with Manuka.

Manuka Honey: She clocked my ex before I clocked it. It's crazy because we weren't close at the time, it was just purely professional.

La Favi: I think for me music is always an outlet, ever since I was a little girl I've been thankful I've had that outlet and I've been able to express things that have been killing me inside. Hopefully that is something we can just continue to do and pass that on. I feel like I can see Manuka's influence here, someone has to open those doors for diaspora communities — people face all kinds of bad situations and sometimes you need to hear someone else letting out that sadness and rage.

Manuka Honey: It gives you permission!

La Favi: Yeah, permission. It's sacred somehow.

How do you feel about channelling rage as an emotion into music? What is it like to listen to it later, when you've gotten past some of that rage or you've let it out?

Manuka Honey: It is catharsis, I feel different every time I hear the track. I feel for me, when I release music, It's out there in the world. So when I hear it, I feel like it's someone telling me the story again. Like: "Oh yeah, that happened."

La Favi: As a songwriter and composer I work in more mainstream spaces sometimes, I would get a sexy song or a happy song - empowering maybe - and I would be like: "I want a sad song." But it was just always coming from the heart, and I think that people can feel it in this EP, it's felt. It comes from a place of real emotion, those are the records that have more of an impact on people. That's why I liked working with Manuka and Club Romantico, I have permission and I can do whatever I want. There was no: "you have to do this", you can just be free.

Read this next: In Session: Florentino

There's a Latin club boom in Europe right now, how does that feel as Latin artists who have been making, playing and repping these genres for years?

Manuka Honey: Yeah, It's like "fucking finally." It's really annoying because it's taken so much time. Me and Florentino have been putting in the work for five years now. I had to learn how to play to Europe, and the angles to play this here - specifically London, Spain is different because they like reggaeton, Portugal is different because people just love to dance in the way that we like to dance. I think now, the task is showing that Latin American club music, and the Latin American underground, is more than just the three genres that people are listening to here. It's more than reggaeton, it's more than guaracha, it's more than dembow... it's cumbia, it's bachata. Do you know how many types of Brazilian Funk there are? And everyone just calls it Baile Funk? like literally so many, I don't even know all of them. I'm always careful to call it Brazilian funk, because Baile Funk is just one type of funk.

La Favi: I think it's important to remember that some of the most talented people in music rarely get a platform, or the chance to pursue a career, or be known for their music - because they have to hustle for survival. My great grandparents were Spanish-American via Latin America, and we as the children and grandchildren get different opportunities than immigrants. A lot of immigrants, in their class position, don't get the opportunities. I don't know much about the UK, but you see so many diasporas together here making music and I feel like that always gets commercialised. It's always been the case where the diaspora makes the trends - whether that's in Europe or the Americas, the music that's coming out of struggle, it's all related.

Manuka Honey: For me, It's about a vibe and curating something sonically that is sexy. But then other people have different approaches. When I was in Mexico City, listening to Arieshandmodel, you've got all these producers there — they are creating these incredible sonic pallets of 150-180 BPM music that's just like, insane hardstyle. It's fucking Mexican, and you'd have never heard about it. I showed it to Manni Dee recently and he was like "this is insane". Exactly! Work with them! It's about not entrapping ourselves within the diaspora, but also fighting the press to stop them doing that to us. Anyway, you're gonna hear that in our HÖR set, so make sure you watch it!

La Favi:
It's always interesting, that cultural maze. Flamenco rap and flamenco reggaeton, that was happening way before people happened upon it in the last few years. A long time before the commercially viable strand of it, it was always there.

Manuka Honey: It's difficult because London is such a defining place in what the sound of the underground is globally. People don't realise that here, they are always like: "Really? London?" It's like, dude, yeah. From being here, I've gotten a lot farther than people who are as talented - if not a lot more talented - than me in Latin America. The person who wrote 'Gasolina', arguably the most famous reggaeton track ever, has never played in London. We've had Rosalía how many times? Not to say she's not talented, but it's just crazy.

Is it a case that a lot of music from the Latin diaspora struggles to have the same impact in the UK as, say, North America?

Manuka Honey: Think of it this way, in the UK the more prevalent diasporas are Caribbean people, Nigerian, Ghanaian. Afrobeats is huge in pop music here. Whereas in the US, where there is a huge Latin diaspora, Latin music sits in the pop arena as well as the underground. I think when I moved here I didn't realise I had even liked or missed reggaeton as much as I did, because I was like "I just want to listen to dubstep and go to FWD>>". I was like: "Where is the reggaeton?" So, I realised I have work to do.

Well you're doing a good job.

Manuka Honey: You know, oldest child I took it upon myself. [laughs]

La Favi: It's all related right. When I started in music, I made reggaeton because I worked with friends and we were at a neighbourhood studio, we all grew up together and they were Panamanian with Jamaican descent. The Jamaican people, their style is connected to the same roots.

Manuka Honey: It's also so important to understand how the dembow beat comes from the Caribbean, and reggaeton is pretty much a stolen genre from the Black diaspora. So, it's not that I think there needs to be a separate space for it, but I think it needs to be intergraded and ubiquitous amongst the sounds of underground music. And, you know, underground music loves to whitewash things... so.

Oh yeah. On a more positive note, has it been a great experience has it been to be able to work with another female artist on this record?

Manuka Honey: I fucking love Favi's realness, and I'm always ready to just be real and be vulnerable. When she sent me her vocals, she said "I'm really sorry, but you might be able to hear my baby in the background." It's like, that's fucking sick. There wasn't a coldness there, there was a willingness and a reception. We've just kept those good vibes going.

La Favi: It was immaculate. I see Manuka really has these incredible close relationships with other women, it's been amazing being here in London in the past few days — meeting these incredible artists and women, academics, people who have opened their doors, their hearts to me. I will never forget it and I couldn't have come at a better time for me. I just feel very fortunate because, we do need to be there for each other and it can really make a lot of difference in somebody's life. Being supported by other women, gives you the strength to reach out to others and we can build ourselves up in that way, even if its just focusing on the good and the positive. I think everyone has been through a lot in these past few years.

Manuka Honey: It was a toxic relationship breeding ground.

La Favi: Yeah, from relationships to even financial stress. I'm a mom, I have an almost two-year-old. Not that being a mother makes you a woman, but for me, I had to grow up a bit. So getting love, and being seen by other women has made a big difference in my life right now. I feel like this has been a bit of a comeback for me as well, I've been kind of in the background for a long time — so seeing others step into their own, it inspires you, it gives you confidence.

Read this next: No more 4x4: How sounds from the Global South stopped club culture stagnating

Manuka Honey: I wanted to work really hard to make SUZIO as good as it could be for you, because I knew that you would deliver. I know your talent. I know how many people ask me for your stuff. I remember when I was telling people in the lead up to the release that I was working with you, everyone was like "Oh my god, she's amazing, how did you do that?" Then I thought, how the fuck haven't you come to London yet?

La Favi: It was so amazing, honestly everybody reading this go to SUZIO, check it out, because It felt historic. The people that were there, I've been so busy I haven't had the opportunity yet to respond to the messages I've received yet.

Manuka Honey: Did you see it all online?

La Favi: Yeah, there were so many creatives there that I respect. It made me feel like, it's OK to be weird, it's OK to be outside the box — there's a lot of stereotypes that, if you don't fit into them, you get told that it's not marketable. There's this idea of what you have to be, but I think it hits a lot harder when you do something that stays true to you.

Manuka Honey: That's what I wanted to show you in London, people fucking love what you do and your underground history and roots are just beginning to grow.

La Favi: I was amazed people knew my songs.

Manuka Honey: People were singing along.

La Favi: I was so amazed that they knew the deep cuts, I thought I was going to cry. I knew with Manuka's track it was going to go off and people were going to listen. But I was still blown away, the energy was crazy. I know it's up from here.

Manuka Honey: I know I'm getting chills too. You know, it's also like, not everything is born out of pain – but I've had so many negative experiences working with straight men and masculine people in the music industry. I'm so excited about building community in the Latin American underground, but that is femme-led. I want the girls and the gays, and the shes and the theys, getting their lives, feeling good in the space. But not just that, curating, orchestrating, playing into their talents — showing the world what they can do and lifting each other up. I can pretty confidently say that every amazing thing that's happened in my life has been because of a woman, so why wouldn't you continue that legacy.

La Favi: What's very funny, is that energy was very much felt and was explicitly stated — but at the same time there were all kinds of people there. Like, there were actually quite a lot of bros there.

Manuka Honey: There were so many bros.

La Favi: It was a safe space for bros as well.

Manuka Honey: Literally!

As long as they behave.

Manuka Honey: They were very respectful, we had no incidents.

La Favi: Yeah, it was good for everyone! That's the thing, we lift our women up, our queer people up. If you lift up everyone who needs to be lifted up, it's better for everyone. Everyone can have a good time.

Manuka Honey: Yeah, people were getting their lives. It was wild, you had this row of queer Latinos at the front just singing at you. Remember that one person literally crying with the glasses?

La Favi: [nods] That to me, is about as good as it gets to be an independent artist. It really means a lot, so I'm really thankful to SUZIO, London. I'll never forget it.

Manuka Honey: Club Romantico.

La Favi: Of course '777'.

Manuka Honey: We called the track an angel number, the track never actually says '777' right? But that was us while we were making it '777', manifesting luck, change, everything we want. So from that collaboration, now she's out here, we're about to go on HÖR, we're talking to you.

Are there plans to do something together again?

Manuka Honey: Nah, I hate her. Bitch of course! Get ready for the best damn record ever.

La Favi: I'm very excited for what's coming.

You can buy Manuka Honey ft. La Favi '777' here.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter

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